AND SARAH LAUGHED: The Status of Women in the Old Testament by John H. Otwell

AND SARAH LAUGHED: The Status of Women in the Old Testament

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Through an exhaustive inventory of every reference to women in the Old Testament, Otwell seeks to overturn the prevailing view that women had a low status in ancient Israel. He only partially succeeds. He does demonstrate that women were regarded as created in God's image equally with men, with God often being described in feminine terms, and that sexual differentiation and specifically female attractiveness were to be celebrated (rather than condemned as in later Christian tradition). Although women could not be priests, they had the sacred role of motherhood--guaranteeing the survival of the people of God--and hence their significant place was in the family; but they could participate voluntarily in the ritual, economics, and the general life of the community to the extent they wished and were able. As Otwell concludes at one point, ""Husband and wife seem to have lived together in an essential parity within which differentiation of function based on sexual identity was present""--just as in many traditional religious families today. What he doesn't seem to realize is that feminist criticism of the Old Testament (and patriarchal religion generally) is leveled not simply at the seeming domination of females by males but precisely at the tendency to equate sexual identity and function. Thus his thorough but plodding study will be received most warmly by ""total women"" who see motherhood, family obligations, and femininity as their divinely ordained preoccupations.

Pub Date: April 18th, 1977
Publisher: Westminster